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How to get the most out of B2B CRM

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Why read this? : We look at the role of CRM in Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. Learn from our case study which activities drive a successful B2B CRM program in B2B marketing. Read this for lessons on building a brilliant B2B CRM program.

We’ve previously looked at Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in terms of its role in brand development and marketing planning.

However, this week we explore how you can use this valuable customer loyalty-building activity in Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. 

We haven’t written much on B2B before, so let’s start with that. Why are B2B customers different? And what does that mean for your B2B CRM program?

Two women wearing business clothes sat next to each other at a desk looking at paperwork and taking notes

B2B Context - What’s different?

In Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketing, the buying process is usually simple. 

The customer decides what to buy, buys it and the consumer consumes it.

Sometimes customer and consumer are the same. Stuff you buy for yourself. And sometimes they’re different. If you buy something for someone else, or they buy something for you. 

In Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing, the buying process is more complex. 

Close up of two hands in a handshake

The customer buys on behalf of their business. Business processes govern buying decisions. These decisions can affect everyone in the business. And there’s also a need to be transparent in how decisions are made.

B2B customers are usually either :-

  • procurement specialists – their job is to negotiate the best deal on standard items. e.g. office equipment, company cars, raw materials.
  • decision influencersexpert professionals who advise on specialised and specific buying decisions. 

Procurement specialists typically focus on price. It’s about negotiation rather than marketing skills with them. However, there are more marketing opportunities with decision influencers, and they’re usually the focus of B2B CRM programs.

Professional and informed decisions

B2B customers mostly put their personal buying preferences to one side. They take a professional approach to buying. There’s more at stake. The spends are bigger. The decision affects more people. So it’s a slower, more thoughtful process. 

B2B customers gather information before making decisions. They compare options. Ask for expert opinions from within the business. They go through all these steps before making an informed decision. 

There’s less emotion involved in the decision (compared to consumer purchases). B2B buyers mostly make rational decisions. They often have to justify their decisions, so their rationale has to be clear. 

The influence of culture and processes

The organisation’s culture and processes heavily influence the B2B buying approach.

In areas such as healthcare, education and law, professional integrity is key. There’s rarely room for emotion. Buying decisions have a clear rationale. 

There are often controls and systems to validate the integrity of the buying process. 

Running track with hurdles set up for a sprint race

For example :- 

  • committees who approve decisions so there’s no individual bias.
  • rules and checklists governing what buyers and recommenders can do.
  • complex submission, approval and review processes for big buying decisions. 

Organisations set up these controls because there’s usually a lot at stake in the B2B buying decision. The sums involved are usually much more than individual B2C sales. 

More value per sale and per customer

A B2B sale covers more people and larger quantities and dollar values. 

To the B2B seller, that means the value of an individual B2B customer is high. If you can influence that customer to buy from or recommend you regularly, you drive ongoing sales. 

Because of that extra value, B2B businesses often invest in :-

  • sales teams to contact customers and have one-to-one selling conversations. 
  • meetings, events and other public relations activities to build connections.
  • B2B CRM systems to manage customer relationships long-term. 

B2B Case Study - context

To bring B2B to life, we’ll use a case study based on a typical B2B business.

We’ll outline their context, and then go into their B2B CRM program. 

Note that this is a made-up business, but it’s based on an amalgamation of several real businesses that have their own B2B CRM programs. 

Let’s call this business “Sustenagen”.

Mock up logo for Sustenagen brand - health and well-being

It makes medical products which it sells to consumers and hospitals. They see Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) – doctors and physiotherapists – as their main B2B customers. These B2B customers decide which products to use in hospitals and make recommendations to their patients.

Sustenagen claims its product is the most advanced on the market. It’s high quality with many functional benefits to support it and is the most premium-priced in the category. Its brand essence is expertise in health and well-being. 

This shows in their tangible brand assets. For example, their brand colours are purple which signifies authority, and blue which signifies trust and calmness. (See our colour psychology in marketing article for more on this). 

Their intangible brand assets such as their values and personality, include words like “confident”, “expert”, “pioneering”, and “the best”. Their brand tone of voice is rational and professional. They regularly refer to scientific research and reports. (Note, many healthcare businesses use this type of competitive strategy).

B2B to drive HCP recommendation

The rules around advertising medical products limit how much they can do with consumers. For example, they can’t advertise certain products. They have to be careful about the claims they make.

Instead, they prioritise B2B activities to drive HCP recommendation. The HCP is perceived as an unbiased expert adviser. Their recommendation influences buying decisions at a hospital and individual patient level.

There are 2 clear benefits to this HCP focus. 

Doctor in white coat holding a stethoscope with arms crossed

First, the HCP usually makes the same recommendation to all patients. Win that recommendation and you drive sales with all those patients. The sales impact of their recommendation is high. 

Also, there’s a regular churn of patients. When they get better, they stop buying. But there’s hardly any churn with the HCPs unless they retire. They stay in the category (and make recommendations) for a long time. This lifetime engagement value makes the value of their recommendation even higher.

Their goal is to persuade HCPs that Sustenagen products offer superior health benefits. HCPs will recommend what they believe to be the best products. 

Activities

Sustenagen’s HCP marketing plan focuses on 3 areas of brand activation :-

  • advertising in relevant journals to drive awareness.
  • face-to-face selling via a national sales team to drive trial and maintain loyalty.
  • their B2B CRM system which drives consideration. 

These channels all connect. The advertising regularly promotes content and resources on the CRM program, for example. The customer database creates a single customer view of all interactions with the sales team and the CRM program.

High-priority HCPs (e.g. ones who don’t currently recommend) get the most attention from the sales team. Sales team members can check the HCP’s details in the database before they meet them. They go in better prepared knowing the history of previous contacts. 

The B2B CRM system helps the business keep in touch with those less frequently visited. (e.g. customers who already recommend). 

It’s also used to send out invites to HCP events organised by the sales team. At these events, expert speakers talk about relevant topics. The invites are targeted. The HCP has to have a known interest in the topic and live within a reasonable travelling distance.

Let’s look at how all this works in practice. 

B2B CRM - Membership

The key entry point to the program is the sign-up and membership section on the B2B CRM website. The entry point is important. It sets the expectation for everything which follows. (See our design psychology article for more on entry points).

Signing up gives the HCPs access to more valuable content, especially downloadable resources. The brand team work hard to make sure content and resources are genuinely valuable to the HCP. They’re written by experts and are always educational and practical. 

There’s much evidence the “promise” of the B2B CRM program works. Membership growth is consistently strong. Unsubscribe rates are less than 10% per year. 

B2B CRM - Regular contact

Once the HCP signs up, they get a welcome email and a few days later, a welcome box in the mail. This box is packed with relevant printed materials and practical items to use in their practice.  

For example, they get a product comparison chart. This highlights the features and benefits of all products in the category.

They use independent experts to review this chart. The company trusts HCPs to compare each product and work out Sustenagen’s superiority.

Delivery driver handing over a cardboard box, with a Sustenagen logo on it

B2B CRM - quarterly newsletter

HCPs also get a quarterly newsletter. This is the backbone of the B2B CRM program. It goes out to every contact in the B2B CRM database.

However, though it appears to be 1 newsletter, there are, in fact, 3 slightly different versions. Each version has the same core articles. But the introduction and call to action change based on the HCP’s role – doctor, physiotherapist or “other”. 

The “news” in this newsletter includes :-

  • details of new resources and materials.
  • information about updates to the product or packaging.
  • a calendar of upcoming HCP events. 

B2B CRM - e-mail contact

Separate from the newsletter, the B2B CRM program also sends out targeted emails. 

These are specific to the HCP’s role (e.g. doctor-focussed content content) and location. (e.g. details of nearby upcoming events). 

There is an average of around 3 email contacts with HCPs between each quarterly newsletter. However, it can vary depending on their role and location.

B2B CRM - website content

The B2B CRM website is where HCPs interact with the brand online. It acts as a central hub of information and has good SEO ranking and many backlinks.

It’s regularly updated with new content. This includes relevant articles, information and references for HCPs to use in their day-to-day jobs.

There is also relevant information about the products and the science behind them. 

The resources page is very popular. Here, HCPs can download articles, tools and other materials. 

Women typing on a laptop with a stethoscope on the desk next to her

They can also request physical items be sent out to them e.g. information guides, practical tools, branded stationery and memory sticks.

B2B CRM - Event calendar

The website also has a calendar of HCP events. Visitors can filter these by topic, date and location.

HCPs can directly book tickets via the website. For some events, they can sign up for webinar broadcasts to view live or watch afterwards. 

Event speakers are all expert HCPs with relevant topics to share. The event information shares their bios with the audience. 

They’re paid for speaking at the event.

A row of people sitting in the audience taking writing notes into their notebooks

B2B CRM - Sales team face-to-face meetings

On the website, there’s also contact information for head office and for each sales representative by the area they cover.

Before each face-to-face meeting, the sales representative looks at the HCP’s contact history on the CRM database. 

This is a record of their interactions. For example, events they attended. Materials they’ve requested or accessed. Summaries of previous meetings. The sales team go into each meeting prepared. 

Female doctor with stethoscope around her neck talking with a female patient

They know the HCP’s interests and previous interactions. No need to repeat previous messages or regather information. If a sales rep leaves, their replacement can get quickly up to speed because all the history is there for them.

B2B CRM - Pulling it all together

Each of these brand activations helps move customers along the brand choice funnel. 

Some content is pushed out to maintain regular contact. The sales force contacts for example, and the regular targeted newsletters and e-mails from the B2B CRM program. But there are also a lot of pull activities, like the website, the resources and the events

3 key skills drive these different elements of a B2B CRM program :-

  • project management.
  • customer experience.
  • marketing technology. 

Project management

First, you need strong project management skills.

There are lots of “mini” marketing projects here. The newsletter content. The events. Website updates. These need to be briefed, created, approved and sent out regularly. 

You need to know how to run a project team so everything happens when it needs to. 

Customer experience

Then, you need customer experience skills. Every interaction between the customer and the B2B CRM program is a chance to educate. To solve their problems and make their lives better.

You also pull on marketing communication skills like advertising, public relations and digital marketing. You write briefs to run a coordinated activity program to drive awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty.

Marketing technology

Finally, you also have to understand how marketing technology works to run a B2B CRM program.

There’s a necessary set of systems, processes and IT skills to make it work seamlessly. To make everything reliable and secure. 

It needs regular maintenance and upgrades, for example. You need to be across those. 

You have to know how to set up your digital data system. That’s how you make sure each HCP gets an experience tailored to their specific needs. 

overhead shot of many laptops and other pieces of technology on a table

You also have to know how to pull out digital insights. These help you better understand what your B2B customers need.  

These are just some of the martech challenges you face with a B2B CRM program.

Did the B2B CRM program work?

This example B2B CRM program is based on a real-life brand. At the time, it was seen as a success. It had a growing membership, with a strong correlation to HCP recommendation of the products. 

We recently reviewed “Sustenagen’s” current B2B CRM program. And the strategy and activities seem largely the same. This would imply their B2B CRM program still works.

They’ve refreshed the look and feel. However, the key messages and customer experience seem relatively unchanged. There’s a clear strong proposition which continues to add value. We know their product has continued to grow market share and retains its superior position.

Net Advocacy Rating

Part of the regular marketing data gathered from this B2B CRM program was a Net Advocacy Rating score (also known as the Net Promoter Score).

We regularly tracked changes in this score and analysed the changes against sales. 

The correlation between advocacy and sales over time was consistently high.

Though correlation doesn’t imply causation, it was still a strong sign that engaging HCPs with a relevant B2B CRM program helped drive sales. 

Group of game pieces following one game piece with added caption - we love you

Consumers regularly said their choices were influenced by HCP recommendation. It was very clear. Drive recommendation to drive sales.

The B2B CRM program helped those HCPs engage with Sustenagen. They became better informed about the category and brand and were more likely to recommend it.

Conclusion - Get the most out of B2B CRM programs

The buying decision in Business-to-business (B2B) marketing can be complex. 

It’s a professional, rather than personal decision. The buying company’s culture influences the decision. There’s a much larger value attached to the decision or recommendation.  

Our example here showed how a B2B CRM program isn’t a stand-alone activity. It links together different activities targeting customers at different parts of the funnel. 

Advertising drives customers to your B2B CRM website. Your website signs them up, and you contact them regularly with newsletters, emails and events. This gives you a “relationship” to “manage” with the “customer”. They’re happy to hear from you and interact with your sales team. 

You need 3 key skills to run a successful B2B CRM program. Project management. Customer experience. Knowing how to set up and use marketing technology. Get those right, and your CRM program will drive your business for years to come. 

Check out our article on the broad principles of CRM to learn more. Or email us if you have a more specific B2B CRM need.

Photo Credits

Two women signing documents : Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Handshake : Photo by Cytonn Photography on Pexels

Hurdles : Photo by Jeremy Chen on Unsplash

Doctor with red stethoscope : Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash

Diver handing over Sustenagen package (adapted) : Photo by RoseBox رز باکس on Unsplash

Logging on to laptop with stethoscope : Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

People taking notes : Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Doctor in consultation : Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Laptops : Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

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